Lucy Cohen was born in Costa Rica to a family that had migrated originally from the Far East. She studied sociology and graduated with a B.A. in 1965 from Mt. St. Mary's College in Los Angeles, California. Two years later in 1958, she earned the Masters of Social Work from The Catholic University of America. It was during her M.S.W. course work that she “discovered” anthropology, in large measure through the influence of Katherine Spencer Halpern and Leila Calhoun Deasy.
Lucy planned throughout her undergraduate study to eventually assume a career in the Foreign Service. Indeed, two years after completing her M.S.W., she received an attractive offer from the United Nations. At the same time, she was encouraged to apply to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) for a pre-doctoral fellowship in anthropology. She chose this latter option and eventually earned the Ph.D. from The Catholic University of America in 1966. Her dissertation dealt with professional women as innovators of change in Colombia. Part of her graduate study took her to New Mexico to study archaeology under F. H. Ellis.
Lucy always considered herself an "applied anthropologist." Early in her career, she had worked at St. Elizabeth's Hospital in Washington D.C., the country's largest public psychiatric facility and the site of Erving Goffman's classic study, "Asylum."
Lucy received her degree at a very exciting time for mental health and the social sciences. Following the work and recommendations of several high-level committees, President John F. Kennedy delivered the first message authored by an American President on mental health. The message was followed by the passage of P.L. 88-164, the Community Mental Health Act, which opened a new era in the understanding and treatment of mental illness.
Lucy was recruited in 1967 as Chief of Program Evaluation for the first Community Mental Health Center funded through this legislation in the District of Columbia.
Two years later in 1969, she returned to The Catholic University of America to a senior position in the Department of Anthropology with a joint appointment in the School of Social Service.
Her deep interest in public affairs in the District of Columbia led to a high level of involvement in community affairs. She was selected to the Board of Trustees for the University of the District of Columbia when the institution was in its early stages. She also served on the Board of Trustees of a prominent foundation with a wide-ranging impact on the District, the Eugene and Agnes Meyer Foundation.
Lucy's research has always reflected an applied orientation and one that ranges widely. Her early work focused on health care and the communication between physicians and patients. There is another thread coursing through her work, something that reflects her own background an interest in ethnicity, immigration, and the socialization process of new Americans. She published in 1984 a book that detailed the migration of Chinese to the post-Civil War South. Somewhat similarly, there has always been an interest in the process whereby women assumed new roles in industrial society in the resettlement process, in gaining access to higher education, and as wage-earners.
Lucy's role within the Society has been long and sustained, and it started in a curious way. In 1964, as a graduate student, she was attending the SfAA Meeting in San Juan, Puerto Rico. One featured session included presentations by prominent applied anthropologists from Latin America. As the session began, someone realized that there were no translation services available and that the audience included several people who were not Spanish speakers. Just as the session got underway, Oscar Lewis approached her and asked her to translate the presentations! She translated the papers as well as the discussion that followed, some of which was quite heated.
Later, and after her faculty appointment, Lucy assisted in the development of the policy that led to the first Malinowski Award that the Society presented in 1973 to Gonzalo Aguirre Beltran. She has attended every annual meeting of the Society (save two when she was engaged in field work in Colombia) since her graduate days.
She also served as the Program Chair for an annual meeting, a task that everyone knows to be very demanding. She has also been active on committees within SfAA, particular those that deal with women, immigration, and government relations.